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FCC chairman discusses progress in fight to stop robocalls

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Published: Jul. 20, 2020 at 5:41 PM CDT
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WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - Combating robocalls are among the top priorities for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). How is the agency addressing that priority? Monday, Eyewitness News spoke with FCC Chairman Ajit Pai about the fight to keep unwanted calls off of your cell phone.

Lily Wu: Another big topic that you’ve been working hard on is robocalls. We hate those pesky calls. Tell about some of the things that are happening with anti robocalling,

Ajit Pai: It drives consumers crazy, me included. Every time I used to get a phone number on my phone that wasn’t programmed in, I had to wonder if it was a telemarketer scam. That’s part of the reason the FCC has benn pulling out the stops attacking these unwanted robocalls. For example..we’ve been asking companies to block these robocalls by the default based on reasonable analytics. We’ve also been going after some of the bad actors in terms of enforcement actions. The largest fine in the FCC’s 86-year history has been against a robocaller the last couple of months who was conducting a health-insurance scam. We are increasing the requirements on phone companies to adopts a new caller-identification framework called Shake and Stir. Essentially it’s like a digital fingerprint for every single phone call so when you see a phone call in the future that shows up and you haven’t programmed it in, you can rest assured that that number is coming from someone who is legitimately using it, not a scam artist who is spoofing that number who might be a world away. There’s a lot more going on. you can find it at FCC.gov. We are taking aggressive action against this problem.

Lily Wu: That’s something that Kansans are very much concerned about. They might get a phone number from a city number and they don’t know what to do. Are there some things that you would like to address, specifically to Kansans?

Ajit Pai: I know our instinct as Kansans is to be friendly in the real world and the virtual world. When you get a call on your phone, your instinct is going to be to answer it and then to answer questions. Don’t do that. If you don’t recognize the number on your phone, let it go to voicemail. Don’t answer it. If you do answer it, don’t give out any sensitive information like your social security number or your medicare number or anything like that. I can tell you as a representative of the government, the government will never call you asking you to disclose your information like that. If something bad does happen, file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission or the FCC, or go to your state commission which does a great job on this issue as well. We want to make sure you’re protected. We hope this problem becomes something of the past.

Lily Wu: Are there some partnerships that are happening between the FCC and the Federal Trade Commission regarding robocalling? And what are those things and the developments that are happening?

Ajit Pai: There is a very important development where we partnered with the Federal Trade Commission called gateway providers. They are very small telecom providers here in the U.S. Most of you have probably never heard of them. They are the first point of contact here in the United States for some of these foreign robocalls that get launched into the United States. Essentially these foreign robocallers will send robocalls to these gateway providers who then launch them on to more established providers like AT&T or Verizon. What we’ve done with the Federal Trade Commission is send a letter to those gateway providers and say, ‘we’re targeting you as one of these gateway providers and you have to shut off these illegal robocalls within 48 hours or you get shut off yourself from access to U.S. networks.' These big companies. within 24 hours, every one of these gateway providers we’ve targeted has gotten rid of the scammers and robocalls. So we’ll be amping up that effort with the Federal Trade Commission. We want to make sure there is no company big or small that is a spring for these awful robocalls to American consumers.

Lily Wu: what have you guys seen at the FCC?

Ajit Pai: It’s been a significant downturn, believe it or not. There is a company in the U.S. called YouMail that tracks these. The number of robocalls has been down significantly, something like 30 or 40 percent.

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